Helen Smith, co-manager of Brussels-based creative-industry consultancy KEA European Affairs, has been appointed as the new "stand-alone" secretary general for Impala, the pan-European trade association for independent music companies.

The move to create a dedicated secretariat marks "a new phase in the history of the association aimed at consolidating the presence of the independent music sector in Brussels," Impala says in a statement.

Smith replaces departing Impala secretary general Philippe Kern, who has also been KEA's managing director. Kern, a one-time PolyGram executive, has served as secretary general since helping establish Impala in January 2000.

"Impala is now almost eight years old and the stand alone structure makes more sense in view of the increased activities of the association and its responsibility towards its members and the regulators," comment Kern in a statement.

Smith, who will be devoting her time only to Impala in her new role, will work with Patrick Zelnick, founder/president of French independent Naïve, and Martin Mills, chairman of the U.K.'s Beggars Group, who are respectively Impala's president and chairman until January 2008.

Impala's vice presidents are Hein van der Ree, managing director at Netherlands-based Epitaph Europe, and Horst Weidenmueller, founder/CEO of Germany's K7.

Smith says the restructuring into a stand-alone organization was influenced by Impala's growing stature in the creative industries.

"When Impala started, the music lobby in Brussels was focused on copyright issues. But now, we've made it clear that the issues should also include creativity, cultural diversity and market access, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises in the intellectual property sectors," Smith tells Billboard.biz. "As a result the whole creative industry sector has more confidence raising issues that they normally shied away from."

Impala's profile has been significantly boosted by its successful protest in the European courts against the European Commission's approval of the merger of Sony Music and BMG Music Entertainment to create Sony BMG.