Italian politicians took out a full-page advertisement in one of Germany's most prestigious newspapers on Tuesday, urging parsimonious northern Europe to do more to help the south through the coronavirus crisis amid an increasingly bitter rift within the EU.
MPs and mayors from across the Italian political spectrum implored Germany for help and lashed out at the Netherlands in the pages of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany's leading conservative daily.
They urged Berlin to drop its opposition to a proposed EU scheme to issue so-called "coronabonds" to raise funds to fight the crisis.
And they accused the Netherlands, which has led opposition to the scheme, of operating as a tax haven and diverting revenue from other member states.
"Dear German friends, with the coronavirus the shared history of the Western world has once again taken centre stage," they wrote. "Today the EU does not have the means to respond to the crisis in a united front. If it does not prove that it exists, it will cease to exist."
Several EU members – led by France, Italy, Spain and Belgium – have called for EU-wide "coronabonds" to help poorer member states borrow as they struggle with the economic impact of the crisis.
But a rival faction of northern members, led by the Netherlands, Finland, Austria and Germany, has opposed what it sees as an attempt to saddle the countries with the debts of their more feckless neighbours.
"Dear German friends, memory will help you to make the right decision," the advertisement said, comparing the current situation to the 1945 decision to halve Germany's postwar debts.
As resentment builds over perceived indifference from the north, a former Italian MP said northern countries would wake up to the catastrophic economic impact of the virus when coffins started building up in their mortuaries – as they have in Italy, where more than 12,400 people have died.
The warning was particularly pointed because Enrico Letta is one of Italy's leading Europhiles. Divisions between member states posed a "mortal danger" to the EU, he said.
"It pains me to say it, but the countries who are dragging their feet, such as Holland, Germany and Sweden, have not yet experienced corteges of coffins," he told Corriere della Sera newspaper. "Northern European governments need to get moving. When you're on the Titanic, there's no such thing as third class or first class – you.re all going down together."
That message was echoed by Spain's foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, who hit back at criticism from Dutch ministers who have questioned why southern European countries are asking for extra resources to cope with the crisis.
"If anyone thinks that there are different classes in Europe, they will soon realise their mistake because we are in the midst of a pandemic," Ms González Laya said.
Spain's prime minister also had strong words for those within the EU who oppose the idea of "coronabonds". "Europe is on the line. It cannot fail on this because even the most pro-European countries and governments like Spain need proof of a real commitment. It's Europe's move," Pedro Sánchez said.
Spain recorded its biggest daily death toll – 849 – which brought its total number of fatalities to more than 8,000. The number of new cases increased by more than 9,000, the most in a single day, to bring total confirmed infections in the country to nearly 95,000.