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The border in Baarle-Hertog runs through shops and houses (photo supplied)

Belgium and Netherlands swap land to change national borders

The Netherlands and Belgium have peacefully adjusted their national borders by swapping a large tract of land, after a police jurisdiction nightmare at the frontier arose.

Published: January 6, 2018, 10:17 am

    The change was prompted after a headless body was found near the border. The land area affected is just east of the Belgian city of Vise and west of the Dutch village of Eijsden, on the river Meuse.

    As of 2018 the countries’ border now goes down the centre of the river Meuse, with the Netherlands taking control of just over 16 hectares of new land, while Belgium adopts around 3 new hectares.

    A peninsula on the river which had gained a reputation for lawlessness because of the geographical difficulties policing it from the Belgian side, prompted the change.

    Four years ago a headless body as found on the peninsula, but the Belgian police had difficulty in reaching the site, and could only approach it by boat.

    Dutch authorities however, could not legally investigate the crime as it had been committed on Belgian soil.

    Even though the countries’ shared border once previously ran down the Meuse, the river’s course has shifted over the years, leaving land areas on either bank in the neighbouring country.

    “The agreement shows that borders can also be exchanged peacefully,” Belgium’s foreign minister Didier Reynders noted in 2016, after both countries agreed on the deal.

    There are other anomalies on the Dutch and Belgian border. The village of Baarle-Hertog, north east of Antwerp, contains one of the world’s most complex international borders.

    It straddles the Dutch and Belgian border with a number of Dutch enclaves contained inside Belgian enclaves inside the Netherlands. The un-policed double-enclave border areas are marked only in tiles.

    It is possible to cross five international borders in 200 metres, from Netherlands to Belgium to the Netherlands to Belgium to the Netherlands to Belgium.

    Cars driving along the road face oncoming traffic driving under the traffic laws of another country, sometimes with a different speed limit.

    Even homes are bisected by the border, dividing them into two countries. A flag on the house number indicates which country it is in and where it pays taxes, since a living room might be in Baarle-Hertog with a kitchen in Baarle-Nassau.

    At one time, according to Dutch laws restaurants had to close earlier. For some restaurants on the border this simply meant that the customers had to move to a table on the Belgian side.

    The border’s complexity results from a number of equally complex medieval treaties, agreements, land-swaps and sales between the Lords of Breda and the Dukes of Brabant in 1198.


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