Netherlands and Belgium agree to swap territory

Two Countries Exchange Territory Without Killing Each Other. See, Everyone, It’s Not That Hard!

Two Countries Exchange Territory Without Killing Each Other. See, Everyone, It’s Not That Hard!

The Slatest
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Dec. 30 2015 4:47 PM

Two Countries Exchange Territory Without Killing Each Other. See, Everyone, It’s Not That Hard!

Meuse River
Meuse river (Mass) in Maastricht.

Photo by Emad Aljumah/Getty Images

The Netherlands and Belgium may finally resolve an absurd 172-year-old geographical dispute, the AP reports, and all without killing each other. Presqu'ile de l'Islal is a small wooded peninsula that juts into the Meuse river just south of the Dutch city of Maastricht and has been officially Belgian territory since the border between the two countries was set in 1843, despite the fact that it lies on the Dutch side of the river.

The peninsula has, for years, been an essentially lawless “geopolitical black hole”, out of the jurisdiction of Dutch authorities and separated by the river from Belgium. This has made it, as Frank Jacobs put it a couple years ago, a “sanctuary for unlicensed sunbathing, loud bacchanalia and unrestricted drug dealing.” The beaches on the peninsula have also been a popular gay cruising spot.

It was all fun and games until a headless body turned up three years ago. In a scenario seemingly ripped from TV, the passersby who discovered the body on the peninsula alerted the Dutch authorities, who told them it was Belgium’s problem. The Belgian police found the case difficult to investigate since they weren’t allowed to cross through the Netherlands and could only reach the peninsula, which has no landing dock, by boat.

This prompted the two governments to negotiate a deal, which their parliaments will hopefully finalize next year, in which the Netherlands will take control of the territory—about 37 acres—in exchange for two other small outcroppings farther down the river.

Exchanges of territory like this do happen periodically. India and Bangladesh agreed earlier this year to swap more than 160 pockets of land in each other’s territory left over from the partition of the subcontinent.  But the amicable way the Meuse river situation is being resolved is rare. Hopefully, some other governments will take note. As for the kids of Maastricht, they should get their nude partying in while they can. 

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and author of the forthcoming book, Invisible Countries.