Old privilege for Flemish fisheries back in force


In the mid-17th century, Oliver Cromwell led a dictatorial regime in England; he also had King Charles I beheaded. This encouraged his son and crown prince to go into exile in order to avoid the same sad fate. After some wandering, he was granted asylum in Belgium, more specifically in Bruges, from 1656 to 1659. However, back in England and in the full exercise of his royal rights as Charles II, the monarch would not be ungrateful to the city of cloth that had taken him in during those dark years. Thus, in October 1666, ten years after his arrival in the city, he granted 50 Bruges fishermen the privilege of fishing in British coastal waters for all eternity. He established this in an official treaty, known in Flanders as the Privilegie der Visscherie ('Fisheries Privilege').

In the post-Brexit context, as London intends to unilaterally set the fishing quotas in its waters each year, the 354-year-old document has resurfaced. In fact, the text has never been repealed by any parliament. In 2017, former Flemish Prime Minister Geert Bourgeois reminded everyone of the existence of the privilege when he produced the treaty on a VRT news set. Last July, his successor, Jan Jambon, also ruled out returning to this old privilege to persuade Albion, which has thus far refused to commit itself and is clearly disinterested in arm-wrestling.