Intellectually, Magnette can probably see that CETA, once the text is cleaned up, is not the bogeyman that some claim. He certainly knows that greater transatlantic trade is in Wallonia’s economic interest and that it would be a mistake for Wallonia to portray itself internationally as anti-business. But politically, he knows that it would be damaging for his party to fall into line with a right-wing federal government. He has an invidious choice to make between looking after the interests of his party and protecting the image of his region and country.As for the image of the European Union, that, too, is under threat, but much of the fault lies with Belgium.Tim King writes POLITICO‘s Brussels Sketch. Also On POLITICO Defiant Wallonia rejects deadline to save EU-Canada deal By Hans von der Burchard and Christian Oliver In the European Union, size doesn’t always matter. A country’s power and influence are not measured simply in terms of the number of its citizens. The small and the outnumbered can still wield power. The current brouhaha over Belgium’s failure to sign up to a free-trade deal between the EU and Canada is a reminder of that reality.Or, as Carl Bildt, sometime prime minister and more recently foreign minister of Sweden, tweeted this week, “A minority in Belgium want to block the rest of Europe.”Those who have criticized the Walloon parliament, the legislature of the southern francophone half of the country, have made much of it representing a population of only 3.6 million, out of the EU’s total population of 510 million. (The total population of Belgium is 11.2m, with 6.4m in Dutch-speaking Flanders and 1.2m in the bilingual region of Brussels.) But by the standards of the atomized EU, 3.6 million is actually quite a lot: more than the population of six member states of the EU, Luxembourg, Malta, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia and Slovenia. But back then the focus of the EU’s trade policy was to pursue multilateral trade agreements. It was only after the slow death of the Doha Round that the EU turned its intention to seeking bilateral trade deals, with the likes of South Korea, India, Canada and the U.S. It did so in an environment in which popular suspicion of trade deals meant member states were more careful about the negotiating mandates that they gave to the Commission. The regions found that their powers over international agreements were of greater importance than before the millennium.A legacy of that era was that the EU was now a target of popular protest. Violent demonstrations in Seattle against the Millennium Round (Doha’s predecessor) found an echo in the European Council at Gothenburg of June 2001 and the accompanying EU-U.S. summit. More damaging were the non-violent campaigns to stop the EU concluding other forms of international agreements: against the copyrighting of computer-related inventions (software patents); against the anti-counterfeiting trade agreement; against GM crops and foods. In turn, those successes fed into the persistent opposition to TTIP, the EU-U.S. trade negotiations with which CETA has, rightly or wrongly, become associated. And it is surely no coincidence that opposition to GMs and TTIP became routine articles of faith in francophone socialism — Walloon socialism has taken its cue from the French Left.On bended kneeTo that changed context must be added developments inside Belgium. Since the autumn of 2014, Belgium has been ruled at the federal level by an asymmetric coalition. Traditionally, there was a line of symmetry along the linguistic divide, with two (sometimes three) parties from each side. But the government put together two years ago is composed of three Flemish parties and only one francophone party — the liberal party from which Prime Minister Charles Michel hails. That has consequences elsewhere. The Flemish regional government is an alliance of the same three Flemish parties — N-VA, CD&V and Open-VLD. The Walloon regional government, however, is a coalition of the Parti Socialiste and CdH (a descendant of the francophone Christian Democrats), with Michel’s francophone liberals in opposition.On top of that changed context, add some unfortunate timing. Only this week, Michel’s federal government pushed through a contentious budget which makes painful choices about welfare, unemployment benefit and the like. At the federal level, the socialists are powerless to stop the government’s plans: The government won a vote of confidence. However, at the regional level, in Wallonia, PS and CdH can at least vent their frustration. More than that, the Walloon government would suffer a backlash from its supporters if it is seen to be bending the knee to a federal government that has just issued a budget which the trade unions will be protesting about in the streets of Brussels in the coming weeks. It cannot help that Didier Reynders, who as foreign minister is supposed to put Belgium’s name to the CETA deal is, like Michel, a francophone liberal — so another arch-enemy of PS and CdH.Belgium’s Prime minister Charles Michel gestures to journalists as he arrives before an EU summit meeting on June 28, 2016 at the European Union headquarters in Brussels | Philippe Huguen/AFP via Getty ImagesHere another circumstance comes into play. In Belgium as in other parts of Europe, the Greens and far-left have harnessed doubts about globalization and multinational corporations to recruit supporters and votes. And recent opinion polls in Belgium show the Greens and the far-left parties making advances, apparently at the expense of the soft-left of the PS, its Flemish counter-part, and CdH. So from both left and right, the parties of the Walloon government are squeezed.Paul Magnette, the politics professor turned politician who leads the Walloon government, is now in a very difficult position. Instinctively, like most Belgians, he will hate the idea of Belgium being out on a limb. Belgium, unlike some other countries, is not comfortable when isolated in foreign affairs. This episode brings to mind unfortunate echoes of Belgium’s genocide law and the possible application of universal jurisdiction — which meant people could be pursued through Belgium courts for alleged crimes committed anywhere in the world — a law that was a public relations disaster at a time when Louis Michel, Charles’s father, was foreign minister. (Eventually, Belgium repealed universal jurisdiction and a court ruled it could not be applied to serving heads of government.) And the EU is accustomed to paying scrupulous attention to those that are outnumbered. In its institutional structures, the EU has long been careful to balance the interests of small states and minorities against large states and the tyranny of majorities. In the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, the smaller member states have representation and powers that are proportionately greater than their population numbers might warrant.What makes the obstruction that currently lies in the path of the EU-Canada trade deal so unusual is not, therefore, the opposition or discontent of a minority. The fault lies rather with Belgium’s flawed political structure and its latent incompatibility with EU membership.To simplify slightly, in Belgium the devolution of power to the regions has gone so far that the federal government has no mechanism for resolving certain differences between regions, nor between federal and regional levelsTo simplify slightly, in Belgium the devolution of power to the regions has gone so far that the federal government has no mechanism for resolving certain differences between regions, nor between federal and regional levels. In those circumstances, Belgium cannot deliver on the undertakings it makes in the EU’s Council of Ministers. Other countries, most frequently Sweden and Denmark, attach caveats to their consent to Council decisions — ‘subject to parliamentary approval’ — but such promises are usually made by governments with parliamentary majorities. In Belgium, with separate political parties on each side of the linguistic divide, the odds are stacked against the federal government being able to command the support of all the regions.That Belgian fault-line has long been there — at least since the regions were given a say on international agreements in a wave of devolution in 1993. It was widened by subsequent bouts of devolution that handed over even more areas of policymaking to the regions. But the faultline would not necessarily have been exposed to the world had it not been for a succession of changes in the political context — some external, others peculiar to Belgium.The most important external change was the character of international trade negotiations. Until fairly recently, trade negotiations and the policing of international trade agreements were matters for the European Commission, which had competence on behalf of the EU’s member states. For Belgium’s regions, responsibility for trade meant trade promotion — marketing the region’s companies and products, trying to attract foreign direct investment. The Flemish region set up its own trade embassies in New York and London. The Walloon region too, though economically more troubled, pursued a policy of trying to attract foreign investment with various forms of sweeteners.