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Greece's Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis attends an economic and financial affairs council in Brussels.EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP / Getty Images

If Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of what is now the European Union, had witnessed the events of the past week, he might be more than a little depressed.

The lofty principles of European co-operation are very far in the rear view mirror. Instead, the crisis over Greece's finances has descended into a mess of finger-pointing – literally.

On Sunday night, a German television host confronted Yanis Varoufakis, Greece's finance minister, with a two-year-old video clip. In it, Mr. Varoufakis talks about the debt impasse and advocates giving Germany "the finger," complete with the relevant rude hand gesture. Mr. Varoufakis claimed the video had been doctored, though there was no evidence of tampering.

Still, the tabloid-ready controversy represents an improvement on last week's rhetoric. That's when Greece's defence minister threatened to punish Germany for its stance in the debt talks by opening his country's borders. "If you deliver a blow to Greece, then you should know that migrants will be given papers and sent to Berlin," he said, adding that Islamic State militants would likely be among them.

For good measure, the newly-elected Greek government also warned it might approve a court decision relating to Second World War reparations that would permit it to seize billions of euros worth of German assets in Greece. The German government retorted that all such issues were settled long ago.

The threats and insults are a sign that the negotiations over Greece's future in the European currency union are reaching a delicate stage. On Monday afternoon, Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on the phone and invited him to come to Berlin for a meeting early next week.

A cooling-off period would be welcome. The relationship between Greece and Germany is at a modern nadir. Some photographs of Ms. Merkel and Mr. Tsipras together, saying vaguely conciliatory things, might help ease tensions in the short term.

Some of the public backbiting going on has political logic. Mr. Tsipras won the election on a promise that he would not capitulate to the demands of Greece's lenders. He may not be able to deliver, but any show of defiance – like threatening to seize German assets – plays well at home.

Likewise, Ms. Merkel and her tough-as-nails finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, are keen to show German voters that they're in no mood to compromise. The bailout of Greece is tremendously unpopular here and tabloids are full of headlines about what "greedy" Greeks stand to cost German taxpayers.

Greece "has destroyed all trust once again," said Mr. Schaeuble at an event on Monday. A poll released last week and conducted by public broadcaster ZDF found that 52 per cent of Germans now want Greece to leave the euro zone – up from 41 per cent in February.

The dredging up of Europe's recent, bloody history to serve short-term political ends is a bad idea. Those ghosts remain very close to the surface. Greek protesters have repeatedly depicted Ms. Merkel as a Nazi; a newspaper affiliated with Syriza, the party led by Mr. Tsipras, featured a caricature of Germany's Mr. Schaeuble in a Nazi uniform.

The problem is that the animosity generated now could outlast the current crisis. The rhetoric from politicians and in the media is starting to have consequences on individual lives. In one small anecdote, the owner of a Greek restaurant in Duesseldorf recently received a piece of anonymous hate mail. "Go back to your own corrupt, rotten and totally incapable dirty Greece," it said.

It's the kind of letter to make Jean Monnet weep – and the longer the hostility between Greece and Germany lasts, the greater the damage will be to his vision of a united continent.

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