Paris Peace Conf. 180.03201/17


Secretary’s Notes of a Meeting of Foreign Ministers Held in M. Pichon’s Room at the Quai d’Orsay, Paris, on Monday, May 19, 1919, at 4:30 p.m.

Present Also Present
America, United States of America, United States of
Hon. R. Lansing Dr. C. H. Haskins
Secretary British Empire
Mr. L. Harrison Sir Eyre Crowe, K. C. B., K. C. M. G.
British Empire Brig. Gen. H. O. Mance, C. B., C. M. G.
The Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour, O. M., M. P. Capt. C. T. M. Fuller, C. M. G., D. S. O, R. N.
Secretary Col. Twiss
Mr. E. Phipps France
France M. J. Cambon
M. Pichon M. Laroche
Secretary-General Belgium
M. Dutasta M. Hymans
Secretaries M. Segers
M. Arnavon M. Orts
Capt. de St. Quentin M. de Bassompierre
M. de Bearn M. Hostie
Italy Holland
M. G. de Martino M. de Karnebecke
M. Bertele
M. A. Ricci-Busatti
H. E. Baron Makino

Joint Secretariat

America, United States of Col. U. S. Grant.
British Empire Major A. M. Caccia, M. V. O.
France Capt. A. Portier.
Italy Lieut. Zanchi.
Japan M. Saburi.
Interpreter:—M. Cammerlynck.
[Page 730]

Revision of Treaties of 1839 M. Pichon said that the Commission on Belgian Affairs entrusted by the Supreme Council at its meeting on 26th February, 1919,1 with the study of the question of the revision of the Treaties of Treaties of 1839, had arrived at the following conclusions.

1. In law, the three Treaties and all their Clauses together constitute a single entity.

The Treaty between Belgium and Holland is not separable from the other two.

Without examining the argument that the three agreements may be said to have been terminated by the fact of their violation, the Commission holds that since three of the signatories consider revision necessary, such revision is called for.

2. In fact, the three Treaties which were directed against Belgium and imposed upon her and upon Holland by the Great Powers have not afforded Belgium any of the guarantees which these Treaties promised to her, and by their clauses relative to her territory and her rivers, have seriously impaired her capacity for defence, and are thus in great measure responsible for the injuries she has received. As far as concerns Germany, Austria, and Russia, it is now in fact impossible to get to Belgium the guarantee of the five Great Powers to which she is entitled by the Treaties. On this ground, also, the revision of the Treaties in their entirety is called for.

3. In principle, the basis accepted for the Peace Conference contemplates the abandonment of the neutralisation of Belgium which constitutes a limitation upon her full sovereignty. The revision of the Treaties is thus a matter of general interest. This neutralisation is at present guaranteed to Holland by Great Britain and by France under the Treaty between the five Powers and Holland. The participation of Holland in the revision of the Treaties is thus called for.

The conclusion suggested accordingly, is as follows:—

The Treaties of 1839 should be revised in the entirety of their clauses at the joint request of the Powers which deemed their revision necessary.
Holland should take part in this revision.
Those of the Guarantor Great Powers which have fulfilled their obligations should also take part therein.
Similarly the Great Powers at the Peace Conference whose interests are general should take part therein.
The general object of this revision is, in accordance with the aim of the League of Nations, to free Belgium from that limitation upon her sovereignty which was imposed on her by the Treaties of 1839 and, in the interest both of Belgium and of general peace, to remove the dangers and disadvantages arising from the said Treaties.

These conclusions were duly accepted by the Supreme War Council at a meeting held on Saturday, March 8th, 1919.2

[Page 731]

M. Pichon, continuing, said that if the Conference agreed, he would call on M. Hymans to state the case of Belgium.

M. de Karnebecke said that he wished to make a reservation in regard to the question of procedure, since he had only just that moment heard for the first time the document read by M. Pichon.

M. Hymans said that he would be obliged to repeat the statement made by him three months ago, giving the reasons which had prompted the Belgian Government to ask for a revision of the Treaties of 1839. He thought it necessary to do this, in order to make M. de Karnebecke fully acquainted with the views held by Belgium. (For statement made by M. Hymans, see I. C. 138, Minutes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7.)3

M. Hymans, continuing, said that in 1918, the German army, in full retreat, had been allowed to pass freely across Dutch Limburg without the consent of the Allies. No doubt the German troops had apparently been disarmed, nevertheless, an army of 80,000 men with all its transport and spoil had been allowed to cross the territory in question. When M. de Karnebecke had explained this very serious incident, which had led to a formal protest by the French, British and Belgian Governments, he had confessed that Holland had not been in a position to prevent the passage of the German troops, as she did not possess sufficient forces to ensure the defence of that territory.

Mr. Lansing, intervening, enquired what connection existed between the passage of the Germans across Dutch Limburg and the territorial question under consideration. In his opinion, had the whole of Limburg been Belgian territory, the Germans would have crossed it just as quickly.

M. Hymans explained that he had merely intended to quote the incident in support of his statement that Holland had found it impossible successfully to defend the territory in question. As a matter of fact, in 1914, Holland had not attempted to defend Dutch Limburg, because the Germans had guaranteed the territorial integrity of Holland.

M. de Karnebecke protested against the statement that Holland had received any guarantees from Germany that it would respect her territorial integrity.

M. Hymans, continuing, said that at the time that Holland was allowing German troops to cross Dutch Limburg, thus enabling them to escape capture, the Belgian Government had asked the Netherlands Government to liberate the Belgian interned prisoners, many of whom had been interned for over 18 months. The Netherlands Government had replied that she could not comply with that request, because the Armistice had not put an end to the war and, therefore, German consent would be necessary. Apparently, therefore, the consent of Germany was required to release Belgian prisoners of war, but the [Page 732]consent of the Allies was not required in order to permit the passage of 80,000 Germans across Dutch territory. It was evident, however, that in Eastern Belgium, a breach existed which, in the event of any future war between the Western Powers and the Central Powers, would constitute a grave menace to Belgium. Consequently, the Belgian Delegates would fail in their duty should they not attempt to close the breach and remove all possibility of danger.

Mr. Lansing, intervening, said that in his opinion this question also had nothing to do with the territorial claims under consideration.

Mr. Balfour interpreted M. Hymans’ argument to be that Holland had not been able to maintain her neutrality. She had allowed German troops to pass across her territory, whilst refusing to liberate Belgian interned prisoners.

Mr. Lansing thought that the difference in the treatment allotted to Belgium and Germany lay in the fact that the latter was big and powerful, whereas the former was small and weak. Germany had been allowed to invade Holland because she possessed the power, and the reason why Belgium’s request for the liberation of her prisoners of war had not been complied with was that Belgium did not possess the power to enforce her demands.

M. Hymans, in conclusion, said that he had repeated with perfect freedom before the distinguished representative of the Netherlands Government the statement which he had made to the Supreme Council on the 8th March last. He had endeavoured to show Belgium’s weak points, which he desired to see strengthened. Those points of weakness had been fully recognised by the Supreme War Council, who had agreed that the Treaties of 1839 should be revised in the entirety of their clauses, at the request of the Powers which deemed their revision necessary. That was the work which the Conference was now called upon to accomplish. As far as he, personally, was concerned, he was ready to co-operate in every way and to bring all his goodwill to bear on it. He would now leave the matter in the hands of the Dutch representatives.

M. Pichon enquired whether Mr. Karnebecke was prepared to reply at once to M. Hymans’ statement.

Mr. Lansing thought that Mr. Karnebecke should be given time to consider his reply.

Mr. Karnebecke said that he would, with the permission of the Council, make a few observations, reserving to himself the right of making a more careful reply later on, should this be considered necessary. He had not been supplied with a copy of the text of M. Hymans’ speech. It would therefore, be easier for him to reply at once whilst the statements made by M. Hymans were still fresh in his memory.

From certain official communications, which had reached the Netherlands [Page 733]Government, the latter had learned that the Belgian Government had referred the question of the revision of the Treaty of 1839 to the Peace Conference in Paris. On the 13th March, the Netherlands Government had received a letter from the President of the Peace Conference in Paris, stating that the Supreme Council of the Peace Conference had passed certain resolutions in regard to the revision of the Treaties of 1839, and the Netherlands Government was invited to attend in order to express its views on the matter. The Netherlands Government had replied that it would be glad to discuss the question of the revision of the Belgium Treaties of 1839, but that it could only deal with the Great Powers. It could not discuss the question with the Peace Conference, since the Netherlands Government did not form part of that Conference. Since then, the Netherlands Government had received a letter from M. Pichon, dated Paris, 9th May, 1919, stating that the Supreme Council of the Allied and Associated Great Powers had decided that a conference including the five Ministers of Foreign Affairs of these Powers, together with a representative of the Netherlands and of Belgium would meet as soon as possible at Paris in order to examine the Treaties of 1839. A few days later, a letter had been received intimating that a meeting would be held on the 19th May, the Netherlands Government being invited to send one representative. He mentioned that fact in order to explain the reason why he had appeared alone at that meeting. He (M. Karnebecke) had followed with great interest the statement made by M. Hymans. He had learnt from M. Hymans that the subject under consideration had already been examined by a Commission, which had submitted a report. But no copy of that report had so far been communicated to the Netherlands Government. M. Hymans had stated that the statement which he had just made was merely a summary of the statement which he had already made to the Supreme Council of the Allied and Associated Great Powers. In the first place, he would say quite frankly that he did not feel called upon to oppose a Dutch plea to the plea which had been put forward by the Belgian representative. He (M. Karnebecke) had come to that meeting for the purpose of helping the Governments to reach a decision, and with that object in view he would at once state to the Conference that the Netherlands Government was fully prepared to consider the question of the revision of the Treaties of 1839 by mutual agreement, as asked by Belgium. He had no intention of criticising the arguments put forward by M. Hymans in support of his contentions. Indeed, that would not be necessary since he had agreed to the revision of the Treaties. But he wished at the very commencement to state most emphatically that he did not think any useful purpose would be served by debating the whole question. In his opinion, it would be far better for the Belgian and Dutch Governments, the two countries chiefly concerned, [Page 734]to endeavour to reach an agreement. On the other hand, though the Netherlands Government were quite prepared to co-operate in the revision of the Treaty itself, he wished to state quite clearly that his Government would do so only on one condition, namely, that the territorial status quo would not be disturbed. The Netherlands Government could, under no possible circumstances, contemplate any territorial concessions. On the other hand, in so far as the neutrality of Belgium was involved, the Netherlands Government would, in no way, oppose the wishes of Belgium.

In regard to the desiderata put forward by M. Hymans, the latter had apparently reached no definite conclusions. He had described the situation in a general way, but he had left the Conference to draw its own conclusions. Consequently, it would not be possible for him to express any definite opinions on the various questions raised by M. Hymans. He thought, however, that M. Hymans’ desiderata should be formulated and communicated to the Dutch Government. The Netherlands Government had, in February last, requested the Belgian Government to communicate to it the substance of the statement which had been made in Paris, and the Belgian Government had replied that this would be done in due course and at the opportune moment. Today, he, (M. Karnebecke) had come to that meeting without knowing the extent and bearing of the Belgian demands, and he had only learned them from the statement which had just been made by M. Hymans. Under those conditions, he thought he was justified in asking that the Belgian desiderata should be put forward in such a way that they could be examined by the Netherlands Government. He would guarantee that the examination in question would be carried out in a spirit of honesty and perfect good-will, especially since he agreed with M. Hymans that a good understanding between Belgium and Holland would be in the interest both of those two countries and of the European Powers. He would promise, therefore, that the wishes of Belgium would be carefully and concientiously examined; but he must insist that sufficient time should be given for the careful consideration of the whole question, since a number of technical points required careful consideration. In his opinion, the best plan would be to give the Netherlands Government sufficient time to study the whole question, and he suggested that direct negotiations should then be entered into with Belgium in order to see what conclusions could be reached. Next, he would refer to certain remarks made by M. Hymans in regard to the question of facts. He could not agree that this was either the time or the place to enter into a series of disputations, but he did not wish to leave the Conference labouring under a false impression. In justifying his desiderata, M. Hymans had spoken of the Scheldt and he had stated that the policy of the Netherlands Government had always been to dominate the Scheldt. That statement was undoubtedly [Page 735]true in regard to the past. That had undoubtedly been the policy of Holland a hundred years ago; but it was no longer the policy of Holland to attempt to dominate or to kill Antwerp. M. Hymans had expressed the hope that Holland would henceforth abandon that policy. It would be quite unnecessary for Holland to make any promise of that kind, since the policy in question had been abandoned over a hundred years ago. Perhaps M, Hymans would be glad to have his attention directed to a report of the French Minister at the Hague, written in 1838, that is to say, only a short time after the change of policy referred to. In that report the French Minister drew attention to the excellent results which had been obtained by the abandonment of the policy of domination, which M. Hymans had complained of.

In regard to Southern Flanders (Zeeland Flanders), M. Hymans had stated that Holland possessed no interests in that region. That was a complete mistake. The mere fact that only one large town existed in that region did not justify the statement that Holland possessed no interests. Holland possessed great interests in that part, and the sentiment of the people had been clearly expressed recently to the Queen of the Netherlands and to the Dutch Government, thus leaving no doubts in the matter. In the next place, M. Hymans had spoken of the question of the regime of the Scheldt, as laid down at the beginning of the war. He, (M. Karnebecke) was not certain whether he had correctly understood M. Hymans’ contention: he had apparently wished to imply that the regime imposed by Holland in 1914 was such that Belgium had the right to complain.

M. Hymans interposing said that he had referred to the regime established by the Treaty.

M. Karnebecke, continuing, said that in that connection he would invite attention to a letter written in 1914 by the Belgian Foreign Minister to Baron Fallon4 for communication to the Dutch Government. In that letter Baron Fallon had certified that this question had been dealt with in perfect friendliness. No protest or complaint had ever been made by the Belgian Government. He had mentioned this fact in order to avoid any misunderstandings. He repeated that no complaints had ever been made by the Belgian Government in regard to the military aspect of the case.

Further, M. Hymans had wished to emphasise the fact that the canals of Terneuzen and the Scheldt remaining under Dutch sovereignty was prejudicial to Belgium, and the latter could not obtain the satisfaction to which she was entitled. He did not know exactly to what incidents M. Hymans had wished to refer. But before coming to the Conference, he (M. Karnebecke) had caused a careful enquiry to be made in regard to all the demands formulated by Belgium during [Page 736]the last 15 years. His enquiries went to show that the Dutch Government had always done all it could to give satisfaction to the desires expressed by Belgium. He did not wish to enter into details. All he wished to say was that no evidence could be found in support of the statement that the Dutch sovereignty had in any way been prejudicial to the interests of Belgium, as contended by M. Hymans.

M. Hymans had also stated that though a Joint Commission of management existed, the Treaty gave no rights to Belgium to improve the channel. He agreed that the statement was correct. On the other hand, he did not think Belgium had ever put forward any demands for the improvement of the channel and it seemed to him that if Belgium desired any works of improvement to be carried out, she should put forward her demands to Holland.

In regard to the Canal of Terneuzen, M. Hymans had brought out the fact that the Canal did not meet existing requirements. That was possible; but he wished to point out that the Canal had in its last stages been constructed, after the Treaties of 18955 and 1902,6 in accordance with the wishes of the Belgian Government, and against the suggestions and recommendations of the Dutch experts who had foreseen that the Canal, as designed, would not be able to meet the requirements of Belgium. The latter had, however, insisted that the Canal should be constructed in accordance with its own designs. Nevertheless, that did not mean that Holland would not now, or at any time, be ready as she was 100 years ago to consider any changes which might be required to improve the traffic of Ghent and the Scheldt.

In regard to Limburg, M. Hymans had made certain observations of a historical character, which he (M. Karnebecke) could not accept. When an exchange of territories had occurred in 1839, Belgium had received certain areas, namely, Liege, two-thirds of Luxembourg and certain French Cantons, whilst Holland had in exchange obtained a small piece of territory at Ruremonde. This being the case, he did not think it would be possible to accept the historical interpretation favoured by M. Hymans.

M. Hymans had also spoken of the necessity for the construction of new railway lines in order to improve the lines of communication between the Meuse and the Rhine and between the Scheldt and the Rhine. He, (M. Karnebecke) was fully conscious of the importance of this question to Belgium. He also fully realised that in the Treaty of 1839 certain clauses dealt with that very question. Clause 12, in fact, decreed the construction of the Gladbach railway line. As stated by M. Haymans, the construction of the line in question finally fulfilled the conditions of the Treaty. But that did not mean that if [Page 737]Belgium required to build a second railway line, Holland would not be prepared to consider the question. M. Hymans’ statement implied that since 1872 Holland had resisted the construction of further railway lines, whereas, as a matter of fact, no request to that effect had ever been received from the Belgian Government.

In regard to the Maastricht Canal, M. Hymans had stated that in Dutch territory the Canal was extremely narrow and this caused such a congestion of traffic that this part of the trip took from three days to one month. Furthermore, Belgium was unable to widen this Canal in Dutch territory and, therefore, could not improve it in their own territory. In this connection, he wished to point out that as soon as Belgium would express a desire to widen the Canal in Belgian territory, Holland would be prepared to do the same in her own territory. This was a question which could easily be settled by direct negotiation between the Dutch and Belgian Governments; but so far no demand had been received from the Belgian Government.

In the next place, M. Hymans had referred to a clause in the Treaty of 1839 on the subject of the construction of a Canal between the Meuse and the Rhine. He understood that a passage had been reserved for the construction of this canal and that the whole question merely required to be studied and considered by the Belgian and Dutch Governments, acting in concert. He thought, therefore, that this question presented no difficulties.

Lastly, reference had been made to the military importance of Limburg. He did not wish to discuss that question in any detail. He only wished to refer to two conclusions reached by M. Hymans. M. Hymans had apparently wished to prove that Dutch Limburg was a constant menace to Belgium, since Holland would not and could not protect that territory. In support of his contention M. Hymans had referred to the passage of certain German troops through that territory, and that the Dutch Government had been unable to prevent it. That statement contained a very serious error. He regretted that M. Hymans had put the question in that way. The Germans had passed through Dutch Limburg not because Holland could not stop them, but for reasons quite different, with which M. Hymans was fully acquainted, and Belgium certainly had no reason for complaint. M. Hymans had also spoken about the release of interned prisoners. He, personally, could not see what bearing that question had on the question of the revision of the Treaties of 1839. He need only point out that M. Hymans was fully acquainted with the correspondence which had taken place on that subject, including the conversations which he (M. Karnebecke) had had with Baron Fallon. M. Hymans would recollect that he (M. Karnebecke) had agreed to do his utmost to obtain the consent of the belligerent parties to the release of the Belgian interned prisoners in Holland. The incident in [Page 738]question had, however, occurred before the signing of the Armistice. He would invite the attention of the Conference to the fact that he would have been fully justified to have given a point blank refusal to the demands of the Belgian Government. But, as a matter of fact, he had endeavoured to do his best to meet its wishes.

Mr. Lansing, intervening, said that he failed to see that this question of the interned prisoners of war had anything to do with the question under consideration.

M. de Karnebecke, continuing, said that in dealing with the historical aspect of the case, M. Hymans had stated that the reason why Holland had failed to defend Limburg was that she had received certain guarantees from Germany. That statement was quite incorrect, and in his opinion, M. Hymans had not been justified in making it.

In conclusion, he would repeat his assurance in regard to the cardinal question, namely, the revision of the Treaty of 1839, that the Dutch Government would be ready to discuss the whole question and to cooperate with the Belgian Government in endeavouring to reach a satisfactory solution.

(The Meeting then adjourned to Tuesday afternoon, May 20th, 1919, at 3 o’clock.)

Paris, 19th May, 1919.

  1. See BC–40, p. 141.
  2. See BC–47 (SWC–14), p. 270.
  3. BC–28, vol. iii, p. 957.
  4. Baron A. Fallon, Netherlands Minister at Brussels.
  5. British and Foreign State Papers, vol. lxxxvii, p. 403.
  6. Ibid., vol. xcvi, p. 809.