As the Italians scrambled to unify their country during the 19th century, Italian governments made promises to one European power after another in order to gain support. How can you possibly keep all those promises to all those governments, the Italian prime minister was asked.“Italy will astound the world,” he replied, “with its ingratitude.”German Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to be the latest foreign statesman to discover just how astounding Italy statesmen can be. Her intervention in Italian politics is widely credited for forcing Silvio Berlusconi (who had called her something that sounds like ‘unflappable’ but is not nearly as nice) out of office and paving the way for Mario Monti, Italy’s current PM.Merkel’s astounding discovery ,as the German magazine Der Spiegel reports, is that the Italians are no more interested than they ever were in behaving like good Germans. They want big European bailouts. They want the European Central Bank to print money. They want to give easy money politicians more control over eurozone economic policies and take power away from Teutonically minded technocrats. Italy, in other words, is going to back France in one economic dispute after another as both countries work to ensure that the euro is a mechanism by which Latin Europe conquers the north, rather than the other way round.Prime Minister Monti may be, as people have called him, a “technocrat”, but he is also, and more profoundly, an Italian. He is going to fight for his country’s interests as he sees them, and he is prepared to be tough.Conventionally, people assume that well managed France has a stronger hand to play politically in Europe than semi-chaotic, debt ridden Italy. That is true in some ways, but in the battle to decide the future of the eurozone, Italy has the equivalent of a nuclear weapon. Italy’s economy is so big, and its debts are so large, that it can always threaten to blow up the eurozone by collapsing.Angela Merkel is like many a creditor before her, confronting a debtor who owes huge sums of money. On paper, the creditor looks omnipotent, but in reality, the big debtor holds some high cards. “If you owe the bank ten million dollars,” as they say, “the bank is in trouble. If you owe the bank ten billion dollars, the bank is in trouble.”Germany is in big trouble in Europe, and the Franco-Italian coalition is going to make things much tougher. Germany’s ultimate choice may well lie between submitting to a fundamentally Latin currency regime with a few Teutonic decorations and the division of Europe into two or more currency zones.France has gained a valuable (if ultimately not very reliable) ally in the silent Franco-German contest to determine the future of the eurozone. So far, Paris can view the Franco-German money war with quiet satisfaction; the German vision of a Europe transformed into virtuous northern savers who play honestly and conscientiously by the accepted rules of the game looks hopelessly unrealistic, and never so more than now as the Italians get into the game.