These are busy days for the European Union. Currently preparing for a dramatic enlargement through the accession of ten new members from central and eastern Europe and considering a new constitutional framework, the union is set to change its shape for ever. Experienced EU lobbyists who know the workings of the corridors of Brussels inside out will be more in demand than ever.
That at least, is what Julia Harrison is hoping. After a year in the south of France doing a little gardening and a lot of horse riding, one of the pioneers of the Brussels public affairs scene is returning to the fray with the launch of her new public affairs firm, Blueprint Partners.
If successful, it will not be the first time Harrison has built up a consultancy in the Belgian capital. In 1990 she set up an office for GPC in Brussels. It started with a staff of three and had grown to 43, when, at the beginning of last year, GPC global chief executive Hershell Ezrin removed his European CEO in a dramatic boardroom shake-up. Painful memories?
Not at all, says Harrison: 'We just took a different view about the way the company was going.'
The range of Harrison's lobbying experience is not to be sniffed at: she first encountered the world of lobbying while working on a project analysing media election coverage in Washington in the US, after a brief and not so fondly remembered stint there as an au pair.
Returning to the UK in 1986, the Cambridge English literature graduate was determined to build a career in public affairs and searched out London's fledgling lobby shops.
After joining PRCI - later to be become part of GPC through a spate of mergers and acquisitions - she became interested in European affairs.
A stint at the European Parliament in Strasbourg as an MEP's assistant followed before she moved to Brussels full-time with GPC.
Given the way that stint of employment ended, Harrison says she wants to 'look forward rather than backward' and won't go into details about the split. She is, however, emphatic that she remains friends with many GPC staff and considers it 'a fine company'.
After more than 12 years in senior management Harrison will be returning to a more consultancy-oriented role alongside an experienced six-strong team, including Fiona Martin, formerly of The Financial Times, and former GPC vice-president Louise Harvey. It is the second time that Harvey - also president of the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium - has upped sticks to join Harrison. After a 13-year stint at the then Shandwick International, she joined Harrison at GPC - a testament, she says, to Harrison's style: 'There's nothing autocratic about her. She's a team player and an inspirational manager.'
Other protagonists in the GPC story are less complimentary. Peter Bingle, who replaced Harrison as London MD in 2000 before falling foul himself of a separate GPC management shake-up, says views about her management style are mixed. He describes her as 'pretty cold' while stressing that Harrison's public affairs skills have earned her respect throughout Brussels - especially as she was one of the first lobbying specialists to set up shop in the city.
Harrison - a mother of one and keen equestrian - says a year off has given her time to charge batteries and reflect on changes to the marketplace.
Blueprint plans to dispense with bread and butter services such as monitoring and concentrate instead on what she sees as the core discipline of public affairs - political and public policy insight.
One of the biggest challenges, she believes, will be staying abreast of the huge changes to the EU's structure as it prepares for expansion - it is already a highly specialist task to understand the different political interests, cultures and media groupings at work in Brussels. She stresses, meanwhile, that Blueprint won't be narrowly focused around EU institutions.
There is a question mark over whether, after so much time in management roles and a year out of the business, her consultancy skills will have atrophied and her contact book thinned out. But as Bingle says, if she manages the transition from large agency to small start-up Harrison should be able to build herself a 'dedicated group of clients'.
Harrison herself is adamant that holding a management position doesn't mean you're out of the game: 'How can you manage a consultancy successfully if you're not aware of what's happening with clients?' she asks. At the same time she is relishing her new challenge as it reminds her of a fondly remembered part of her career - the part that made her reputation: 'I love building things,' she says.
1986: Consultant/director, PRCI, London
1989: MEP's assistant, European Parliament
1990: MD and founder, GPC, Brussels
1998: CEO Europe, GPC 2003, Managing partner, Blueprint Partners