Article 34 - Social security and social assistance
Article 21 - Non-discrimination
Article 1 - Human dignity
55. By its sixth and seventh questions, which should be examined together, the referring court asks, in essence, whether European Union law and, in particular, Articles 2 TEU, 6 TEU, 18 TFEU, 45 TFEU and 49 TFEU, read in conjunction with Articles 1, 21 and 34 of the Charter, must be interpreted as precluding national or regional legislation which requires citizens of the European Union, in order to be eligible for the housing benefit provided for under that legislation, first, to have resided or worked in the territory of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano for at least five years and, second, to have declared that they belong to or elect to join one of the three linguistic groups present on that territory.
79. According to recital 3 in the preamble to Directive 2003/109, the directive respects the fundamental rights and observes the principles recognised, inter alia, by the Charter which, according to the first subparagraph of Article 6(1) TEU, is to have the same legal value as the Treaties. Pursuant to Article 51(1) of the Charter, the Charter’s provisions are addressed to the Member States when they are implementing European Union law.
80. It follows that, when determining the social security, social assistance and social protection measures defined by their national law and subject to the principle of equal treatment enshrined in Article 11(1)(d) of Directive 2003/109, the Member States must comply with the rights and observe the principles provided for under the Charter, including those laid down in Article 34 thereof. Under Article 34(3) of the Charter, in order to combat social exclusion and poverty, the Union (and thus the Member States when they are implementing European Union law) ‘recognises and respects the right to social and housing assistance so as to ensure a decent existence for all those who lack sufficient resources, in accordance with the rules laid down by European Union law and national laws and practices’.
81. Since both Article 11(1)(d) of Directive 2003/109 and Article 34(3) of the Charter refer to national law, it is for the referring court, taking into account the integration objective pursued by that directive, to assess whether housing benefit such as that provided for under the provincial law falls within one of the categories referred to in Article 11(1)(d), the Autonomous Province of Bolzano arguing that that is not the case.
92. In that regard, it should be recalled that, according to Article 34 of the Charter, the Union recognises and respects the right to social and housing assistance so as to ensure a decent existence for all those who lack sufficient resources. It follows that, in so far as the benefit in question in the main proceedings fulfils the purpose set out in that article of the Charter, it cannot be considered, under European Union law, as not being part of core benefits within the meaning of Article 11(4) of Directive 2003/109. It is for the referring court to reach the necessary findings, taking into consideration the objective of that benefit, its amount, the conditions subject to which it is awarded and the place of that benefit in the Italian system of social assistance.