Relations between Germany and Greece, which have been strained since the start of the economic crisis in 2009, appeared to reach a new low on Wednesday amid the exchange of barbed comments between the two countries.

President Karolos Papoulias was uncharacteristically blunt in his response to repeated criticism about the Greek economy and politics. He accused German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble of making insulting comments, including one that suggested Greece should not hold elections now because its politicians are incapable of keeping to the terms of a new bailout.

“We all have a duty to work hard to get through this crisis,” he said during a visit to the Defense Ministry. “I will not accept Mr Schaeuble insulting my country. I don’t accept this as a Greek.

“Who is Mr Schauble to insult Greece? Who are the Dutch? Who are the Finns? We always had the pride to defend not only our own freedom, not only our own country, but the freedom of Europe.”

The comment that appears to have sparked Papoulias’s response was a suggestion by Schaeuble that Greece should follow Italy’s example by forming a technocratic government. He also cast aspersions about the record of Greek politicians in the past. “After [the technocrats have completed their work] the democratic process can resume with the effects that we have all seen over the last few decades.”

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti warned in a speech at the European Parliament that the crisis was creating divisions in Europe. “The eurozone crisis has given rise to too many resentments and recreated too many stereotypes, it has divided Europe into central countries and peripheral ones; all these categories must be decisively rejected,” he said.