The way obesity is tackled could change dramatically in the wake of European Parliament elections, says Matthew Orman

All change in the European Parliament could signal all change for EU food policy. The May elections to the European Parliament resulted in significant turnover, with more than 50% of the new parliamentarians arriving for the first time.

The Centre Right European People's Party consolidated its position as the largest group but the main story was the success of the smaller parties, including Greens, eurosceptics and the far right.

Making predictions about political balance is notoriously tricky in an institution dependent on cross-nationality and cross-party compromise. But the bigger parties will need to form alliances with these smaller groups in order to carry a majority. This is likely to force the debate and decision-making into the open, reinforcing the importance of committee discussions. This is particularly true of the parliament's committee on environment, public health & food safety where seven different groups are represented and the largest, the EPP, has only 36% of the 64 full members.

With 10 full members, the UK is the best represented of the member states on the committee, although these members are spread across seven different parties, including Sinn Fein, UKIP and the BNP.

The first opportunity for the Parliament to demonstrate its intentions in food policy will be the controversial Food Information Regulation. Debate on this will be a priority when the committee sits in September. Other policies that will appear soon on the agenda include novel foods, nanotechnology and cloning.

The European Commission, meanwhile, will undergo a reshuffle towards the end of the year following a predicted 'yes' vote in the Irish referendum on the treaty of Lisbon on 2 October and a summit later that month. The complex process of selecting commissioners and their dossiers will be made more so by the creation of two new positions EU President and EU Foreign Minister.

But speculation has already started that the incumbent Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou would like to stay. She has demonstrated a personal interest in the public health element of her dossier potentially leaving food safety & animal health for another commissioner.

Arguably the most important personnel change with regards to EU food policy will probably attract the least attention. Robert Madelin, the Director General of DG SANCO, the health 'ministry' of the EU, is expected to leave his post later in the year under the Commission's five-year rotation scheme.

Madelin has been the driving force behind the EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity & Health and the chief advocate of a voluntary approach, whereby companies use their own initiative to combat obesity through marketing, reformulation, nutritional information and the promotion of active lifestyles.

The success of the platform will be measured in 2010 as will the success of voluntarism itself. Many health and consumer groups are writing off the platform and calling it to be replaced by a more regulatory approach. It will be for the new Commissioner and Director General to make such a decision, with input from the parliament.

In the words of Madelin: "We have a reality check with a change of guard."

Matthew Orman is an associate director with Interel Cabinet Stewart