Relations between Germany and Italy, both mainstays of the EU, were on Wednesday night sunk in their deepest and most personally acrimonious crisis since the second world war.
After the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, scrapped his holidays in Italy to protest at anti-German abuse from an Italian minister, Italy's head of government, Silvio Berlusconi, contemptuously dismissed the move, offering neither regret nor any hint that he intended to reprimand a subordinate who had depicted Germans as arrogant and hyper-nationalistic.
Asked what he made of the chancellor's decision to spend his summer holiday in Hanover instead of on the Adriatic coast, Berlusconi said merely he was "sorry for him."
His remark will infuriate Schroder, already seething over the Italian prime minister's outburst in the European parliament last week in which he likened a member of the chancellor's party to a concentration camp guard.
The renewed breach between two of the EU's "big four" nations is more serious than that original, theatrical flare-up.
This time, Berlusconi, currently also president of the EU's council of ministers, is critically dependent on the goodwill of Germany for the success of Italy's six-month presidency and, in particular, for achieving compromises in talks on the EU's planned constitution.
The row between the two countries erupted again after Berlusconi showed no sign of acting against his junior industry minister, Stefano Stefani, for an article in which he wrote: "We know the Germans well, these stereotyped blondes with a hyper-nationalistic pride, who have been indoctrinated from the beginning to feel top of the class whatever the situation."
Stefani went on to write that Germans "loudly invaded" Italian beaches in summer and were "drunk with imagined certainties" that would crumble if they took an intelligence test.
Italy's leftwing opposition yesterday announced it would be tabling a motion demanding the minister, who has defiantly refused to apologize, be removed from his job.
The German press hit back at Stefani saying he had a head full of spaghetti and stereotyping Italy as a mafia-ridden, corrupt country.