European Union agriculture ministers agreed on Wednesday to set aside part of the bloc's massive farming policy budget for programmes that protect the environment.
The EU is nearing the end of a two-year struggle to overhaul its agriculture policy, to attempt to align it with the bloc's climate change commitments, while supporting farmers' livelihoods.
The common agricultural policy (CAP) as a whole will suck up roughly a third of the EU's €1.1 trillion ($1.30 trillion) budget for 2021-2027, to be split between direct payments to farmers and other support for rural development.
Ministers agreed that 20% of the payments to farmers will be earmarked for green schemes such as organic farming or agroforestry. Farmers will not be able to access the cash for other purposes.
The policy kicks in from 2023 and ministers agreed a two-year pilot phase for the green schemes, meaning they would become binding from 2025. Some countries had raised concerns that tying cash to environmental aims would mean the money was left unspent.
"We can't simply leave it up to member states to decide whether or not eco-schemes are used and, if so, what money will be made available," said German agriculture minister Julia Kloeckner, who chaired the meeting.
With agricultural sites comprising 40% of all EU land, farming has a large influence over the health of Europe's natural habitats.
Agriculture is the most frequently reported threat to nature in Europe, amid intensive farming techniques including pesticides and irrigation, the EU environment agency said on Monday.
Campaigners said the 20% share for green schemes was too low.
"Agriculture ministers are largely perpetuating a farm policy which will throw taxpayers' money at polluting, industrialised agriculture until at least 2027," said WWF senior policy officer Jabier Ruiz.
Martin Haeusling, agricultural spokesman for the Greens in the European Parliament, criticised the agreement, saying about two-thirds of subsidies would still be paid according to hectares farmed, without significant environmental protection conditions.
French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie welcomed the deal "which will avoid any distorting of competition" as it applies to all member states. "This is a greener but above all a fairer CAP," he said.
German farming association DBV saw the agreement as an "acceptable compromise", said DBV president Joachim Rukwied.
The farming policy negotiations do not end with Wednesday's deal. EU countries must now strike an agreement with the European Parliament and the European Commission on the rules. Parliament is voting on the policy throughout this week.