The Cable

Belgium and the Netherlands Redraw Borders in a Peaceful Land-Swap

If only the rest of the world’s border disputes were solved this peacefully.


Land swaps between two countries aren’t always a peaceful process, as Europe knows all too well after centuries of warfare. But Belgium and the Netherlands decided to defy bloody historical tradition and exchange land without firing a single shot. How cordial.

On Monday, top officials and royalty from the two EU neighbors met to sign a formal swap of territory at their border. It doesn’t add up to much new turf — the Netherlands will only acquire about 25 acres from its neighbor, according to But the land-swap will resolve a lot of jurisdictional and legal issues that gave each country small headaches for years.

As part of the agreement, Belgium will give their Dutch neighbors two uninhabited parcels of land, Presqu’île de L’llal and Presqu’île d’Eijsden, which dot the border on the Maas River. The Netherlands will return the favor, giving Belgium a small swath of land called Presqu’île Petit-Gravier. The Maas river was straightened in 1961, leaving these pieces of land on the wrong side of the border from their respective home countries. They subsequently turned into “isolated enclaves of illegality” where criminals and drug dealers could thrive, Dutch broadcaster NOS reported; Belgian police could only reach the land by boat and with permission from the Dutch government, giving criminals plenty of getaway time.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders and his Dutch counterpart Bert Koenders signed the land-swap treaty on Monday. If both national parliaments approve the treaty, Belgium and the Netherlands can officially redraw their maps in January 2018.

The treaty signing was very cordial. “This unique border treaty is an example of our excellent cooperation with the Belgians”, Koenders said. “We showed today that the Netherlands and Belgium can succeed as good neighbors in adjusting borders in a peaceful way.”

This is the second land swap between the neighbors in 175 years. The land swaps before that, like Belgium’s bloody 1830 revolution to gain independence from the Netherlands, didn’t go as smoothly. It’s just nice to know they’ve buried old grudges.

Photo credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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