In this season of outrageous geopolitical gifts (Norway wants to give a volcano to Finland!) the ever-pragmatic Netherlands and Belgium are working out a more practical swap: trading a slice of land that, in current hands, has given both of them nothing but trouble.
The land in question is the Islal Peninsula–about 15 soccer fields’ worth of nature preserve that started out on Belgium’s side of the Meuse River but, thanks to infrastructural changes, has migrated across it. Though still geopolitically Belgian, it’s now stranded on the Dutch side, making it difficult for either country to police it. The problem has been clear since the 1980s, at which point the two countries discussed redrawing things. But land disputes at that time were heated, so they tabled it.
In 2011, negotiations started up again, thanks to varying reports of lawlessness–dealers were hawking drugs; “the gay community” was sunbathing nude; teens were throwing scandalous, vandalous parties. But the process was really kickstarted in 2012, when some would-be nature-walkers came across a headless body. The Belgian police were responsible for investigating, but they had a hard time getting their team there–they couldn’t enter the Netherlands without permission, and the peninsula lacks the infrastructure required to land ships loaded with equipment.
The team ended up zipping back and forth repeatedly via police boat, and wading or jumping to shore each time. “It really was not very practical,” summed up the local police Commissaire, Jean-Francois Duchesne.
The swap should be finalized sometime in 2016, after which the Netherlands will be the proud owners of 37 acres of nature preserve full of wild horses and partying teens. In return, Belgium is getting a couple of small land spits further down the river–and dry feet for their policemen.
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