How many of Spain's 46 million population could tell you anything about the middle-aged German woman who holds their country's hard-won democratic sovereignty and economic future in her hands today; whose judgments will decide whether millions of hardworking Spaniards can stay in their jobs or pay off their mortgages through 2011 and beyond; and whose negative verdict on the Spanish economy would trigger not just a programme of austerity measures that would dwarf those already imposed on Greece and Ireland but could prove to be the beginning of the end for the eurozone itself?

Not many of them, one fancies, since the middle-aged German woman playing God over one of the greatest of all European nations is not Angela Merkel. The German chancellor is central to the battle to defend Spain that was again being fought out at today's Brussels EU heads of government summit. Yet she is not, it turns out, the person whose thumbs-up or thumbs-down can shape Spanish life for a decade or more.

That accolade belongs instead to the shadowy figure of Kathrin Muehlbronner, a polyglot economics graduate of the university of Tübingen who, it is tempting to say, may exert more reactionary influence over Spanish life than any woman since Queen Isabella drove out the Moors, expelled the Jews and put the Inquisition at the centre of the nation more than half a millennium ago. How so? Muehlbronner is a vice–president and senior sovereign risk analyst specialising in Spain at Moody's credit ratings agency. That makes her the woman whose say-so can plunge Spain into the unknown by the simple act of declaring that Europe's fifth largest economy no longer merits its Aa1 rating.

This week Muehlbronner stopped short of actually pulling the lever that will dump Spain through the trapdoor into a fiscal torture chamber that would have done credit to Torquemada himself. "Moody's believes that the downside risks warrant putting Spain's rating under review for downgrade," Muehlbronner pronounced with her hand on the lever – whereupon the euro and the stock market both fell. A moment later she relaxed her grip. "Moody's does not believe that Spain's solvency is under threat," she conceded, whereupon both euro and markets rallied a little. Read full article in the Guardian...