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Belgium, Netherlands peacefully redraw the border, fixing a jurisdictional burden

Belgium and the Netherlands have settled a festering territorial dispute, without firing a single bullet. However, the border change was prompted by a violent murder and an arduous police investigation.

Territorial disputes often turn bloody and spark conflicts that can span decades. However, on Monday, the Netherlands and Belgium settled a festering territorial dispute by signing a peaceful land exchange deal. The motion was prompted by a bloody murder, but ultimately alleviates a major jurisdictional burden.

On the windy Meuse river that divides the two countries by the Dutch town of Eijsden, Belgium agreed to cede a tiny uninhabited peninsula that is linked to the Netherlands, in return for a small piece of nearby land.

Both countries' deputy prime ministers and ministers of foreign affairs signed border correction treaty in Amsterdam on Monday. Dutch and Belgian monarchs also attended the signing. 

At the signing ceremony, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said: "We have shown that Belgium and the Netherlands succeed as good neighbors to adapt their borders peacefully."

His Belgian counterpart, Didier Reynders, said that the border treaty symbolizes the excellent state of Belgian-Dutch relations and that it shows that borders can also be changed in peacefully.

The new border will come into effect on January 1 and will follow the middle line of the Meuse.

Practical sense

The land exchanges remedy what was a jurisdictional nightmare, particularly for Belgium. The original border, established in 1843, followed the deepest points of the river. However, when it was reconfigured for navigational purposes in 1961, it pushed three pieces of land onto the wrong side of the river. As a result, parts of Belgian are attached the Dutch riverside of the Meuse, and vice-versa, making them inaccessible by road without crossing over the border.

Niederlande Belgien Border Swap (picture-alliance/AP Photo/V. Mayo)

People walk past Dutch and Belgian flags on the waterfront in Eijsden, Netherlands

This began causing problems for Belgian authorities, as a Belgian part linked to the Netherlands was rumored to be a haven for drugs dealers and prostitution.

Then, a couple of years ago, passers-by stumbled upon a headless body on the Belgian part. However, Dutch police were unauthorized to go there because it was on Belgian territory, while Belgian authorities were not allowed to cross into the Netherlands without special permission.

The only alternative was a difficult river crossing. However, without proper landing zones for boats or equipment arriving by river, Belgian police found it extremely difficult to arrive at the scene.

After a number of round trips across the Meuse river with prosecutors, legal doctors and judicial lab personnel, both sides agreed that a better solution was needed.

A similar agreement between Norway and Finland had recently gained traction in the media, but ultimately appears to have fallen through.

Norway was considering of gifting an Arctic peak to neighboring Finland as a centenary gift. As well as a good-will gesture, it would have also corrected a geographical incongruity as the Finish border with Norway wraps itself most of the way around the mountainside.

The quirky gift idea hit a legal road bump, however, with Norway's constitution essentially prohibiting any border adjustments.

dm/rc (AP, Belgium Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs)

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