Using highly colourful language, Greece's deputy foreign minister, Theodoros Pangalos, condemned German efforts to hurry along diplomatic relations with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia before Athens takes over the six-month presidency.
The dispute between Bonn and Athens threatens to disrupt the EU's Bosnia peace-making efforts at Monday's conference in Geneva, which Germany's Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, and Mr Pangalos are due to attend, with the risk of a damaging split emerging in the common EU front.
'Before, Germany was a giant with clay feet, and now it is like Pantagruel, the giant of Rabelais, with a bestial force and a child's brain,' Mr Pangalos said at a symposium in Athens on Thursday.
Germany's public reaction to the comments reported by the Greek press was muted, but the government was said to be deeply angered. The Greek ambassador in Bonn was called in to explain his minister's off-the-cuff outburst and provide an official transcript.
A basic tenet of EU membership is that officials never publicly insult a partner country. Mr Pangalos ignored protocol in attacking the EU paymaster.
He spoke of 'the resurgence of pan-Germanism' as something 'inadmissible'. He said: 'Some people's mindsets in Bonn are determined by the past and not the future, and some developments strongly remind us of the period between the two world wars, and that cannot constitute European policy.'
The row reflects the deep suspicions in Greece about Germany's intentions in the Balkans and its changing policy towards Turkey. Mr Pangalos delivered a scathing attack on the EU's relations with Turkey, which he said was 'dragging its bloodied boots across the carpets of Europe'.