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WARSAW, Poland – The leader of Poland's conservative ruling party, whose policies have led to clashes with European Union leaders, said Sunday he wants the country to remain in the EU so it can become like western European nations "in every respect."
Jaroslaw Kaczynski's declaration opened the Law and Justice party's campaigning for Oct.21 local elections in which it hopes to strengthen its grip on power.
The elections for mayors, councilors and other city and county offices will show the level of support for the program of the right-wing party, Kaczynski said.
Law and Justice won leadership of the Polish government in 2015 on promises on improving life for ordinary Poles and fighting crime and corruption.
Since then, the Polish government has reorganized the judiciary and criticized EU rules it says are too restrictive, raising questions about the country's attachment to the 28-nation bloc.
The European Court of Justice is reviewing changes in the composition and operation of Poland's Supreme Court that critics say violate judicial independence. The government denies its moves were anti-democratic and has indicated it might disregard the EU court's ruling.
But Kaczynski, a Catholic who opposes abortion rand same-sex marriage, said Sunday that the EU membership Poland has held since 2004 benefits the country economically.
"The Poles want to be in the European Union because that is the shortest way to bring earnings to the European level and to raise the living standards," he said.
The party's goal is to have Poles say "in 15-20 years' time that things in Poland are the same as they are west of our borders, in every respect," Kaczynski said.
Law and Justice remains Poland's most popular political force thanks to increased social spending and steps it argues are eliminating poverty, the misuse of state money and corruption in the justice system.
Amid chants of "Jaroslaw, Jaroslaw" and flowing white-and-red national flags, Kaczynski said the public approval should last through Poland's parliamentary election next year and the 2020 presidential election.