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Section I.—Belgium (Art. 31 to 39)

Article 31.

Germany, recognizing that the Treaties of April 19, 1839, which established the status of Belgium before the war; no longer conform to the requirements of the situation, consents to the abrogation of the said Treaties and undertakes immediately to recognize and to observe whatever conventions may be entered into by the Principal Allied and Associated Powers, or by any of them, in concert with the Governments of Belgium and of the Netherlands, to replace the said Treaties of 1839. If her formal adhesion should be required to such conventions or to any of their stipulations, Germany undertakes immediately to give it.

Note to III, 31

The treaties of April 19, 1839 consisted of (1) a treaty of separation negotiated between Belgium and the Netherlands (37 British and Foreign State Papers, p. 1320); (2) a treaty recognizing that separation signed with the Netherlands by Austria, France, Great Britain, Russia, and Prussia (27 British and Foreign State Papers, p. 990); and (3) a treaty signed by Austria, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia establishing the neutrality of Belgium under a joint guaranty of neutralization (27 British and Foreign State Papers, p. 1000).

Article 31 deals with one of the decisive phases of the outbreak of the war of 1914–18. On August 4, 1914 Chancellor von Bethmann–Hollweg told the German Reichstag: “We are now in a state of necessity and necessity knows no law. Our troops have occupied Luxembourg, and perhaps have already entered Belgian territory. Gentlemen, this is a breach of international law … The wrong—I speak openly—the wrong we thereby commit we will try to make good as soon as our military aims have been attained.” This German action brought into operation the joint guaranty of Belgian neutrality under the treaty signed between Austria, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia. The British Government—the only party to the treaty not already involved in the war—fulfilled its obligation and entered the war in support of Belgium, notwithstanding the German Chancellor’s plaint that Great Britain was going to war just for a “scrap of paper”. The Belgian Government under King Albert removed to French territory on October 13, 1914.

This article, incorporated in the treaty of peace at the instance of the Belgian Government, intended to abandon the policy of neutralization [Page 136]and to secure Germany’s assent thereto in advance. It also committed Germany to accepting any future arrangements effected by Belgium with the Principal Allied and Associated Powers. The article did not concern the other Allied and Associated Powers.

As to the guarantors of the 1839 treaty, Austria and Hungary, as successors to the Empire of Austria of 1839, by articles 71 and 83 respectively of the treaties of peace with them, were bound by provisions identic, mutatis mutandis, with this article. Russia in 1919 was ignored. The British Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on April 10, 1922 (House of Commons Debates, 5th series, 153, col. 31) made the following statement:

“Of the five guarantor Powers, after excluding Russia and those which have been at war with Belgium, there remain France and Great Britain. These two and Belgium are in mutual agreement that, in consequence of past events, the treaty establishing the guarantee can no longer be regarded as in force.”

On June 4, 1919 the Paris Peace Conference appointed a commission consisting of representatives of the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Belgium, and the Netherlands to study the measures which might result from revision, to submit proposals implying neither transfer of territorial sovereignty nor the creation of international servitudes, and to consider any suggestions agreed upon between Belgium and the Netherlands regarding navigable streams ( Foreign Relations, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, iv, 792, 857). The commission’s work ended on March 23, 1920 with the drafting of projects for a Belgo–Netherlands treaty and of a collective treaty (file 763.72119P94/55). Disagreements between Belgium and the Netherlands with respect to the waterways prevented a settlement. The principal difference was over the Wielingen channel, which is the largest and most frequented of the three passages giving access to the Scheldt. The Netherlands claimed exclusive jurisdiction over this channel, which is parallel with the Belgian coast and is partially within the three-mile limit of Belgian territorial waters and entirely so at the mouth of the Scheldt.

Negotiations were not resumed until 1924, in part owing to a dispute arising out of a refusal by the Netherlands to permit some torpedo boats taken over by Belgium from Germany to pass from Antwerp to the sea. Nor was the Netherlands eager to forward the Rhine-Meuse canal contemplated by article 361 of the treaty of peace, which would pass through its territory. The treaty signed on April [Page 137]3, 1925 (file 755.56/55 and /62) provided in article I for the abrogation of article VII of the treaty of 1839 between Belgium and the Netherlands, so far as it concerned neutrality, and canceled article XIV, which limited Antwerp to being solely a commercial port. The rest of the treaty related to the control and management of the Meuse and Scheldt Rivers and the waterways connected with them. Articles VIII, IX, and X of the treaty of 1839 and subsequent treaties in execution of them were abrogated and superseded by elaborate provisions regulatory of the Flanders waterways, the Scheldt and the Meuse, and the subsidiary canals and constructions. Article VII gave Netherlands consent to a Belgian Rhine-Meuse canal (see art. 361). The treaty as a whole was a slight revision of the 1920 draft. The Wielingen channel question was not dealt with. The defense of Limburg, which Belgium had sought in 1919–20 to induce the Netherlands to undertake in concert, was also omitted, though the Netherlands reiterated its statement made in 1920 in the interpretative memorandum that, within the obligations of the Covenant, “it considered a deliberate violation of Netherlands territory, in whatever spot it might occur, as a casus belli”.

In July 1926 the Belgian Chamber and Senate approved the treaty, Belgium then feeling that the rapprochement resulting from the Locarno détente and the entrance of Germany into the League of Nations had satisfied some of its objections on the ground of security. The Netherlands, on the other hand, gave principal attention to the financial and economic terms, which were considered by the Parliament from July 1926 until March 24, 1927, when the First Chamber voted 33 to 17 against approving the treaty. No treaty between Belgium and the Netherlands supplanting the treaty of 1839 has been subsequently negotiated.

A collective treaty between Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands for abrogating the treaties of guaranty of 1839, signed at Paris May 22, 1926, did not go into force (Belgium, Ministère des affaires étrangères, Documents diplomatiques relatifs à la revision des traités de 1839, p. 24), in view of the failure of the Belgian-Netherlands treaty of April 3, 1925. It provided for the abrogation of the treaties of April 19, 1839 between Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia and Belgium and the Netherlands, respectively (27 British and Foreign State Papers, pp. 990, 1000), and for the ending of Belgian neutrality and the special regime applicable to Antwerp. Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Soviet Union were to be invited to adhere.

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The Belgian chief of staff concluded with the French chief of staff on September 7, 1920 a military understanding “to reinforce the guaranties of peace and security resulting from the Covenant of the League of Nations” and by an exchange of notes of September 10, 15, 1920 (2 League of Nations Treaty Series, p. 128) gave the understanding a political status. The terms of military cooperation were revised as the occasion arose, lastly on March 6, 1936.

Belgium’s position was greatly altered by Germany’s repudiation of the Locarno treaty of guaranty. Its policy was to keep outside of any disputes of its neighbors and to be able to dissuade any neighbor from using its territory to attack another state. The King of the Belgians enunciated the policy in a declaration of October 14, 1936. An agreement effected by exchange of notes on April 23, 1937 (178 League of Nations Treaty Series, p. 185) recorded the release of Belgium from all obligations toward France and the United Kingdom resulting from the Treaty of Locarno or the proposals of March 19, 1936, while maintaining their undertakings of assistance to Belgium under both instruments. France and the United Kingdom took note of the desire of the Belgian Government concerning its interests, in particular—

  • “(1) the determination expressed publicly and on more than one occasion by the Belgian Government; (a) to defend the frontiers of Belgium with all its forces against any aggression or invasion, and to prevent Belgian territory from being used, for purposes of aggression against another State, as a passage or as a base of operations by land, by sea or in the air; (b) to organize the defence of Belgium in an efficient manner for this purpose;
  • “(2) the renewed assurances of the fidelity of Belgium to the Covenant of the League of Nations and to the obligations which it involves for Members of the League.”

It suited Germany to follow this lead six months later. On October 13, 1937, seeing that conclusion of a treaty to replace that of Locarno would take considerable time, Germany in its note to Belgium made the following declaration:

  • “1 The German Government has taken note of the views to which the Belgian Government has given expression by virtue of its own competence; to wit,
    a)
    that it intends to pursue in full sovereignty a policy of independence,
    b)
    that it is determined to defend the frontiers of Belgium with all its forces against any aggression or invasion, and to prevent Belgian territory from being used, for purposes of aggression against any other State, as a passage (Durchmarschland) or as a base of operations by land, by sea or in the air; and to organize the defence of Belgium in an efficient manner for the purpose.
  • “2 The German Government affirms that the inviolability and the integrity of Belgium are in the common interest of the Western Powers. It confirms its resolution under no circumstances to prejudice this inviolability and integrity and at all times to respect Belgian territory, except, of course, in the event that Belgium, in an armed conflict in which Germany is involved, should collaborate in any military action directed against Germany.
  • “3 The German Government is prepared, equally with the British and French Governments, to enter into undertakings of assistance in respect of Belgium, in case it should be the object of any aggression or invasion.”

On May 10, 1940 German troops invaded Belgium and the Netherlands without warning and without provocation. In a memorandum to each Government the German Government alleged that they had not preserved “the strictest neutrality in the event of war between Germany on the one hand and Britain and France on the other”. The phrasing of the 1937 declaration was used in supporting this argument.

Article 32.

Germany recognizes the full sovereignty of Belgium over the whole of the contested territory of Moresnet (called Moresnet neutre).

Article 33.

Germany renounces in favour of Belgium all rights and title over the territory of Prussian Moresnet situated on the west of the road from Liége to Aix-la-Chapelle; the road will belong to Belgium where it bounds this territory.

Note to III, 32, 33

Moresnet, formerly part of the duchy of Limburg, was divided into three sections in 1815, the eastern part going to Prussia, the western to the Netherlands (later to Belgium), and the central portion, then important for its zinc mines, becoming neutral territory [Page 140]under the joint administration of special commissioners acting for Prussia and the Netherlands (later Belgium). In 1919 Prussian Moresnet (1.31 square miles) was a part of the Kreis of Eupen. The cession of neutral Moresnet (1.21 square miles) brought all of historical Moresnet under Belgian jurisdiction.

Moresnet, Eupen, and Malmédy constituted the Belgian side of a frontier zone over against a strip of territory on the German side 15 kilometers in breadth by an agreement between the two countries concerning the granting of facilities in frontier traffic to the nationals of the two countries residing in the frontier zones, signed at Aix-la-Chapelle, July 1, 1926, and in force August 1, 1926 (62 League of Nations Treaty Series, p. 127).

Article 34.

Germany renounces in favour of Belgium all rights and title over the territory comprising the whole of the Kreise of Eupen and of Malmédy.

During the six months after the coming into force of this Treaty, registers will be opened by the Belgian authorities at Eupen and Malmédy in which the inhabitants of the above territory will be entitled to record in writing a desire to see the whole or part of it remain under German sovereignty.

The results of this public expression of opinion will be communicated by the Belgian Government to the League of Nations, and Belgium undertakes to accept the decision of the League.

Note to III, 34

The Kreise (circles) of Eupen and Malmédy, while never forming part of Belgium, had developed an anti-Prussian feeling following a decree suppressing the use of the French language in the municipal administration of Malmédy. The Belgian negotiators at Paris argued for the cession of the Kreis of Malmédy and presented a strategic map which showed Eupen on the Belgian side. The Commission on Belgian and Danish Affairs of the preliminary peace conference was unwilling to sanction a cession of the Kreis but was willing to go as far as this article provides. The German delegation in its comments of May 29, 1919 on the Conditions of Peace objected to the arrangement on the ground that the districts had never belonged to Belgium and that the registration would not constitute a plebiscite. The Germans claimed that Moresnet and Prussian Moresnet had German majorities, that Eupen was almost purely [Page 141]German, and that in Malmédy the Walloons were “considerably in the minority” (out of a total population of 60,000, five sixths were German) ( Foreign Relations, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, vi, 824). The German Government could not consent “as a matter of principle” to the surrender of this territory; furthermore, no real plebiscite was provided for. Germany was prepared to supply wood from the Eupen forests as compensation to Belgium but could not consent to “transferring human beings from one suzerainty to another, purely on account of timber and zinc ore”.

The Allied reply pointed out that when these territories were separated from the Belgian lands in 1814–15, “no account was taken of the desires of the people, nor of geographical or linguistic frontiers” and that the region had continued to maintain “close economic and social relations” with Belgium ( ibid., p. 941). In spite of a century of Prussification, the Walloon element had not entirely disappeared. Furthermore, the territory had been “a basis for German militarism”, notably the camp at Elsenborn. As regards neutral Moresnet, the old dispute was now settled in favor of Belgium; the transfer provided “partial compensation for the destruction of Belgian forests”.

These unusual provisions involved a renunciation of territory to be confirmed as a cession by measures entrusted to the cessionary.

The registers provided for were opened on January 23, 1920 by the Belgian Royal High Commissioner for the Districts of Eupen and Malmédy. The regulations confined the registration to men and women 21 years or more of age who had been domiciled there since August 1, 1914 and were still established on January 10, 1920. During the six months that the registers were open, the Belgian administration was developed, Belgian money was substituted for German, and a general strike occurred. The German Government protested both to the peace conference and to the League of Nations respecting the method of conducting the expression of opinion. The registers were closed on July 23 and transmitted to Geneva by the Belgian Government on August 17. The Belgian report stated that only 271 inhabitants out of a population of 63,940 (30,000 being qualified to register) wished to see the whole or part of the territory remain under Germany.

After examining the Belgian records and further German representations and protests, the Council of the League of Nations recognized the definitive transfer of the districts of Eupen and Malmédy to Belgium by a resolution of September 16, 1920. Germany [Page 142]in further protests sought to bring the matter before the first session of the Assembly in November 1920; the documents were laid before the delegates to that session without action on their part. Germany unsuccessfully sought for reconsideration by the second session of the Assembly in 1921.

The Committee of Experts which worked out the New (Young) Plan in 1929 for settlement of the reparation problem included in its consideration the liquidation of Belgian claims to reimbursement for the German marks issued in the country during the war of 1914–18. It was agreed by the committee that those negotiations should be concluded before the New (Young) Plan came into force, and the Belgian and German members in their tentative opening of the subject found themselves in complete disagreement concerning the German efforts to link the mark question with an adjustment of the Eupen-Malmédy cession. The American members of the committee obtained on June 4, 1929 in a formal letter from the German expert an assurance that “no territorial questions will be raised in these negotiations” for settling the mark claim. In consequence of this assurance the Belgian experts agreed to sign the report of the committee with their colleagues on June 7 before the mark negotiations, which were not completed until July 13, were terminated.

Article 35.

A Commission of seven persons, five of whom will be appointed by the Principal Allied and Associated Powers, one by Germany and one by Belgium, will be set up fifteen days after the coming into force of the present Treaty to settle on the spot the new frontier line between Belgium and Germany, taking into account the economic factors and the means of communication.

Decisions will be taken by a majority and will be binding on the parties concerned.

Note to III, 35

Eupen and Malmédy, with St. Vith, were placed under a Belgian Royal High Commissioner by a law of September 15, 1919. The Belgo-German Delimitation Commission fixed the boundary by a protocol signed at Aix-la-Chapelle on November 6, 1922 (Moniteur Beige, Mar. 7, 1925, p. 1050).

The cantons of Eupen, Malmédy, and St. Vith were united for political and juridical purposes with the arrondissement of Verviers by a Belgian law of March 7, 1925.

[Page 143]

Article 36.

When the transfer of the sovereignty over the territories referred to above has become definitive, German nationals habitually resident in the territories will definitively acquire Belgian nationality ipso facto, and will lose their German nationality.

Nevertheless, German nationals who became resident in the territories after August 1, 1914, shall not obtain Belgian nationality without a permit from the Belgian Government.

Note to III, 36

Germany recognized the validity of declarations of option made by the persons referred to in article 36, paragraph 1, and belonging to the territories referred to in articles 33 and 34 by concluding an arrangement with Belgium at Aix-la-Chapelle on September 11, 1922, in force on September 15 (41 League of Nations Treaty Series, p. 141). The Belgian regulations thus validated were embodied in decrees and laws of 1919, 1920, and 1922.

Article 37.

Within the two years following the definitive transfer of the sovereignty over the territories assigned to Belgium Under the present Treaty, German nationals over 18 years of age habitually resident in those territories will be entitled to opt for German nationality.

Option by a husband will cover his wife, and option by parents will cover their children under 18 years of age.

Persons who have exercised the above right to opt must within the ensuing twelve months transfer their place of residence to Germany.

They will be entitled to retain their immovable property in the territories acquired by Belgium. They may carry with them their movable property of every description. No export or import duties may be imposed upon them in connection with the removal of such property.

Article 38.

The German Government will hand over without delay to the Belgian Government the archives, registers, plans, title deeds and documents of every kind concerning the civil, military, financial, judicial or other administrations in the territory transferred to Belgian sovereignty.

[Page 144]

The German Government will likewise restore to the Belgian Government the archives and documents of every kind carried off during the war by the German authorities from the Belgian public administrations, in particular from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Brussels.

Note to III, 38

The land registers were transferred under the terms of an agreement signed at Aix-la-Chapelle, July 9, 1927, and in force August 1 (75 League of Nations Treaty Series, p. 367).

Article 39.

The proportion and nature of the financial liabilities of Germany and of Prussia which Belgium will have to bear on account of the territories ceded to her shall be fixed in conformity with Articles 254 and 256 of Part IX (Financial Clauses) of the present Treaty.

Note to III, 39

Belgium was charged with 604,609 gold marks by the Reparation Commission on account of German and Prussian public debts attributable to the ceded territories.

The Belgo-German agreement of July 13, 1929 for the settlement of the Belgian mark claims included the German marks acquired in the early part of 1920 as a consequence of substituting Belgian currency in the ceded territories.