The greening of direct payments has been introduced into the first pillar of the CAP post-2013 with the objective of promoting sustainable agricultural practices more effectively through simple, generalised, non-contractual and annual actions that go beyond cross-compliance. The main objective of this article is to analyse the effects of this new policy instrument on Italian agriculture by evaluating, through the data from the 6th Agricultural Census of ISTAT, the number of farms and the areas poten- tially affected by these new environmental obligations. Even though the analysis is mainly focused on the greening obligations as have been agreed in the final regulation on direct payments, the article also looks at the main differences, in terms of farms and areas covered, between the final version of the greening measures and the environmental requirements as were proposed by the European Commission in 2011. The article shows that, in its final form, the greening has considerably diminished its potential in promoting sustainable practices on a large scale, since it will affect quite a small percentage of holdings concentrated in specific areas. This is particularly evident in Italy, where arable land is very fragmented and where the average size of farm is well below the thresholds established for the greening requirements. By starting from the Italian case, the article provides a critical discussion on the future CAP and on the main difficulties of implementing a coherent agri-environmental strategy through the direct payments of the first pillar.