Pierre Mertens writes in Le Monde (December 12, 2007):

Belgium no longer loves itself. It never truly did love itself. A certain masochism always eats away at its insides. This tendency for self-derision that, at times, reflects its humor and its arrogance, also nourishes its suicidal tendencies. . . . Its métissage, its own bastardization, made it a metaphor, a metonym, for all Europe: one part for all. A laboratory all can visit to pierce the secret of the paradoxical, improbable model that we offer.

For all the ink spilled over the constitutional crisis in Belgium (over the election of an anti-federal, pro-Flanders majority), there is little concern, certainly not on par with the election of Hamas. Perhaps some people think it is natural for ethnic groups to go their own ways. Nations are artful creatures, and the confederation that may emerge if the CD&V coalition eventually receives the leadership of government will be as natural as Belgium had been–or the two separate nations that may yet come. Even from the perspective of European institutions, the disintegration of a nation is less important than the ties that are cultivated between regions and communities across national borders–transnational rather than international.

The fate of Brussels may prove more interesting. Federal city, capital city, capital Europe, it is much more than a center of government, but the symbol of an ideal of post-national politics. Without Belgium, what would become of the city and its ideal? Pascal Delwit finds the prospects bleak:

If Belgium implodes, it would be logical, from the logic of a European nation-state, that Belgium would be bequeathed to Walloons and Brussels. It is difficult to speculate [further]. The key problem for Brussels would be to maintain its status as a national and international capital. To be clear, if Brussels is no longer a capital of Europe, it will become a small provincial town. It will lose its European institutions and all the enterprises associated therewith.

A contraction of function as a national would certainly make it less appealing for European politicians. It’s been suggested that the current crisis would make Belgium’s signature on the new EU treaty meaningless. What would happen to the EU? Brussels is not the only capital. My beloved Strasbourg stands ready already housing many parliamentary functions as well as the court and Council of Europe. And there are a few who would prefer relocating all functions to Strasbourg (mostly those who hate how the city of Brussels is run). For that matter, Bonn might have lots of usable space.

The breakup of Belgium would give fuel to the fire of Eurosceptcism. The symbolic capital of an ethnically-diverse federationwould be lost. Other capital cities would inspire national jealousies. Diplomacy between national executives would be emphasized over democracy, and the EU needs much more of the latter. The nations of Eastern Europe would feel less attracted to the “spiritual” dimensions of European integration. As much as Brussels could be hated for burdensome bureaucracy and complex language, the city has a niche that others might not fill.

[Crossposted to Cliopatria]