Italy's prime minister has warned that the eurozone's sprawling debt crisis has created resentment amid the bloc's nations, which could ultimately trigger a break-up of the wider European Union.
Mario Monti told German news magazine Der Spiegel in an interview published on Sunday that eurozone tensions over the past few years "bear the traits of a psychological dissolution of Europe", adding Europe "must work hard to contain it".
Asked about a strengthening in resentment between the allegedly profligate southern European nations and the bloc's thrifty northern members, Monti told Der Spiegel "it is very alarming, and we have to fight against it".
"Yes, there is a front line in this area between north and south, there are reciprocal prejudices," he said according to the interview's German translation.
An Italian newspaper this week run a front page decrying alleged German domination of Europe, showing an image of Chancellor Angela Merkel - often criticised for insisting on austerity measures and fiscal discipline in the crisis-hit nations - alongside the headline "Fourth Reich", alluding to a new generation of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.
German media, in turn, have often criticised Greece and other southern nations, accusing them of failing to live up to their financial commitments to the 17-nation Eurozone.
Monti insisted the 17-nation currency's disintegration would "destroy the founding of the European project".
"Therefore it is the prime task of the nations' leaders to explain to their citizens Europe's real situation and not give in to old prejudices."
Meanwhile, Romano Prodi, a former Italian prime minister and president of the EU Commission, urged Germany to show "true leadership" in steering the continent through the crisis, saying the bloc's biggest economy has the duty "to lead Europe toward a better future".
According to text excerpts of an op-ed in Monday's edition of Germany's top-selling tabloid Bild, Prodi warned "the confrontational debate between those receiving and those giving has already become common and destroys the founding walls of the European idea".
If Germany fails to lead through the crisis, it "would be the political end, for Europe and for Germany", he insisted, urging Berlin to present a "clear action plan to achieve a democratic, federally structured Europe".