Recognizing that local autonomy is a fundamental right as maintained by article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that the will of the people is the basis of the authority of governments at all levels.
The first initiative for any form of international recognition of the principles of local autonomy (in modern times) was taken at the first General Assembly of the Council of European Municipalities (Versailles, 1953). The European Charter of Municipal Liberties adopted on that occasion reflected its proponents commitment to rebuilding post-war Europe on the basis of strong local institutions enjoying a high degree of democratic autonomy. During the succeeding years the CEM (now the Council of European Municipalities and Regions, European Section of the International Union of Local Authorities) launched and supported a series of initiatives to have this Charter adopted officially by the European Institutions.
In the late 1970s the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE), the official representative institution for the local and regional levels of government within the Council of Europe, prepared a Draft European Charter of Local Self-Government. A decade of consultation and debate followed, the end result of this scrutiny was the present text of the European Charter, which was drawn up in its final form as a European Convention and opened for signature in 1985. The Charter entered into force on 1 September 1988. The Charter has now been ratified by 30 European countries, and it has been used as a major guideline by several of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which have been admitted to membership of the Council of Europe in recent years, in their constitutions and/or their basic local government legislation. The principle of local self-government is seen as such an essential component of the Council of Europe's fundamental principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law that signature of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, along with the European Convention on Human Rights, is henceforth a pre-requisite for accession by new Member States.