The principle of giving an ANOC Merit Award to persons who have in an exceptional way furthered or contributed to the work of the Association was adopted in 1981 with the creation of the ANOC Merit Award Commission.

As a rule, the ANOC Merit Award is solemnly presented to the laureates in a ceremony taking place during an ANOC General Assembly. Distinctions were presented for the first time in 1983.

The criteria for awarding the distinction and the Commission's procedures are governed by the "Regulations to Grant the Merit Award", adopted in their present form by the XIV ANOC General Assembly in February 2004 in Athens.

To date, over 190 ANOC Merit Awards have been awarded (see list of laureates).