Angry Spanish farmers waved banners and beat drums in Madrid yesterday in a protest against visiting European Union Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler's proposed reform of the bloc's farm policy. Spain receives 6 billion euros ($5.92 billion) in EU subsidies, Fischler said, making it the second biggest beneficiary after France of the 40 billion euro ($40 billion) a year Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Hundreds of demonstrating farmers gathered, some shouting into megaphones and pouring nuts and bran on the ground outside the European Commission office in the capital, where the commissioner discussed plans to change the subsidy system. Farmers say the proposal to decouple aid from production and link it instead to how well they meet environmental, safety and animal welfare standards, would cripple them. “Europe without farmers means slaves to the U.S.,” read a banner waving above a sea of farmers from across Spain. “Fischler, rice exterminator,” read another. Spanish politicians across the board reject the proposal and Agriculture Minister Miguel Arias Canete said the review could lead to an end to cereal production in some areas. “It means less income for farmers,” said Jose Antonio Turrado, a farmer from northern Spain. Fischler also ran into farmers' protests when he visited Portugal on Thursday. Fischler told agricultural leaders his proposal would not dent farmers' income and was a way of preventing harsh cuts to the agriculture budget further down the line. “What is at stake is that if we don't act now... but wait for the debates and future financing for the whole community for the next period that starts in 2007, you don't have to be an Einstein to realise that the agricultural budget is going to be the first to be subjected to cuts,” Fischler said. The CAP accounts for nearly half of the European Union's budget. Fischler said World Trade Organisation negotiations on farm trade, EU enlargement to the east, and separate talks on the future financing of the European Union will change the conditions for agriculture long before 2006.

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