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Fears that Spain will continue to lose influence in Europe

Relatively unknown PP leader Rajoy may have trouble getting things done once elected

Should he win on Sunday, Mariano Rajoy will arrive at La Moncloa with a very pessimistic outlook. He will have to buoy Spain's image at the European level as the debt crisis and the bleak financial outlook continue to engulf the continent.

But there is more, according to British political scientist Charles Grant. Rajoy will be forced to compete with Europe's newest leader, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, for credibility when it comes to finding solutions to Europe's current problems. "The markets know and believe Monti, which could refocus their attention on Spain, Grant believes. "Mariano Rajoy is going to have to do a lot more than Monti."

Among the 27-member European Union bloc, Rajoy is an unknown, which puts him in a poor position.

But Antonio López-Istúriz, secretary general of the European People's Party (EPP), which helps set PP policy at the EU level, believes comparing the two leaders is an exaggerated exercise.

"Monti is going to be alone for a few months, at least until the spring and a new political government is formed," he predicts. "The EU is waiting for Rajoy to do something similar to what Aznar did in 1996, which permitted us to enter the euro zone in 1998 at the expense of painful austerity measures," he said. "France and Germany want Spain to return to normality and they want to help."

In 2009, Grant, the director of the Centre for European Reform, published a book that contained some stunning commentary as to the role José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero played in the EU. "While Spain is one of the most pro-European nations it really has smallest influence among the six largest nations [the others are France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain and Poland]. Spain doesn't have clout because of the personality of its leader," Grant wrote. "He hardly traveled before being elected and doesn't speak any other languages. He has not made any efforts to form alliances with other leaders or countries. Zapatero's interests are focused on the domestic front."

Reflecting now on Rajoy, he says: "Little is known about him outside Spain; he doesn't speak another language and it appears that he hasn't established any contact with other leaders.

"He reminds me of Zapatero. If it is going to be that way, Spain will continue to lose influence."

A well-known economist and former dean at Milan's prestigious Bocconi University, as well as serving the European commissioner for the internal market and then for competition, Monti is going to be a major obstacle for Rajoy when it comes to drumming up influence, Grants says.

"With a very well-known and competent Mario Monti at the helm to tackle the situation, Italy can turn the market interest on Spain. Rajoy is going to have to work harder than Italy with Monti as leader."

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