Merkel signaled that her party will now make a greater effort to shore up its support, and the Free Democrats can't expect any more favors. She said her party won't be afraid to emphasize differences with its partner, for example over whether to introduce minimum wages.

"It will be an election campaign in which everyone fights for themselves and their votes â¿¿ and perhaps one of the lessons from Lower Saxony is that there shouldn't be so much fear of the Free Democrats disappearing," she said. "It's important for broadening the base that we don't take votes from each other in the same field."

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