The Czech Republic’s top diplomat has warned that threats to punish European Union members financially for steering away from the bloc’s democratic norms is fuelling support for populism.

The EU’s executive is locked in battles with post-communist members including Hungary and Poland over what Brussels has denounced as democratic backsliding.

As reported by Bloomberg, the Czech Republic occupies the middle ground in this dispute, with Prime Minister Andrej Babis’ government resisting closer integration with EU structures while also not engaging in the type of governing that has been characterised as a slide toward authoritarianism in Warsaw and Budapest.

Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said the EU is right to demand adherence to its values, but financial penalties will only result in resentment.

“This idea as such is one of the reasons why populism is rising in some countries,” Petricek, considered one of the most pro-EU figures in Babis’ government, said in an interview in Prague this week. “Protecting the rule of law is primarily a matter of dialogue.”

The debate has taken centre stage before May’s European Parliament elections, which may reshape future relations between EU member states.

According to Bloomberg, while Petricek said the EU must continue using tools to defend democratic values, he did not criticise Poland and Hungary directly.

“I still hope that our partners in some of the richer countries understand that we joined the EU with some expectations, but that they also accepted us into their club because they saw benefits from the enlargement,” he said.