The concept of green services, developed in the Netherlands, aimed at rewarding activities by farmers in the field of nature and landscape management with a ‘market-based price’ provided by public and private actors. Despite a positive stance on the concept at member-state level, it took considerable efforts to get the concept implemented. The selected case, which is an exemplary case for a more general reorientation on the provision of agrienvironmental measures (eg in the context of the EU Common Agricultural Policy), shows that uncertainties of the EU state aid regime and complex power relationships within a multilevel governance setting led to much delay. We explain these difficulties by drawing from new-institutional and sense-making literature and the literature on escalation. We also show how a modus vivendi was found for establishing the green service concept and thereby provide insights for initiators of new agrienvironmental schemes or other horizontal modes of governance.