REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Could this be the world’s worst excuse for poor infrastructure?

The city of Brussels has a novel excuse for recent holdups to vital public works. Faced with Europe’s worst traffic, the Belgian capital has been desperately trying to patch up tunnels whose poor state has caused road closures. Now Brussels has finally explained why the repairs are taking so long: the tunnel’s plans have all been eaten by mice.

Claiming rodents ate your master plan sounds like the municipal equivalent of saying the dog ate your homework, but apparently it’s true. According to city transit officials, plans for the tunnels were stored inside bridge supports on one of Brussels’ main highways—a bizarre enough fact in itself. They seem to have ended up there because, when the Brussels Capital Region was founded in 1989, the relevant transport department was in temporary digs in a hotel and was short on space.

It turns out a concrete pillar is not the ideal place to store valuable documents, which have all disappeared, apparently eaten. By now, the tunnel plans have probably long since been chewed to pieces by hungry teeth and passed through a host of murine digestive systems.

The local response to the news is pretty much what you’d expect: people seem to be pausing occasionally from belly laughs to bang their heads against the wall in frustration. Brussels, you see, is increasingly at risk of looking a bit hopeless. The city’s political structure is insane; it’s covered by 19 completely independent municipalities whose cooperation is made yet more complex by the division of their populations between French and Dutch speakers. Brussels infrastructure is also shoddy, its roads routinely clogged. It’s a tribute to something—citizen resilience? distinctive architecture?—that the city still manages to be as charming and likeable as it is.

A pleasant, self-deprecating humor is a default response to this dysfunction, as testified to by this spoof plan to give Belgium’s traffic jams UNESCO World Heritage status. Brussels residents are nonetheless all too aware of the damage it does to their reputation. French newspaper Libération caused uproar when it roasted the city’s poor conditions in a major article of 2013, leading to a Brussels pushback that still acknowledged much of the attack was fair. Just two days ago—the day before Mousegate—another local commentator complained that Brussels had become a place defined by “cracked concrete tunnels,” “inextricable traffic jams,” and “the impossibility of moving serenely, without stress.”

Now on top of all this, it turns out that the city can’t even keep a piece of paper safe. We can all laugh, but when the great minds of a European capital are defeated by a little furry thing with a brain the size of a sugar cube, something has gone seriously awry.

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