Power to the people: 2 Italy regions to hold autonomy votes

It is greater autonomy __ not independence __ that two of Italy's wealthiest regions are seeking in a pair of referendums Sunday, yet Catalonia's secessionist ambitions in nearby Spain loom large over the debate.

The presidents of Lombardy and Veneto in northern Italy are campaigning on the economic benefits of loosening Rome's grip. But identity politics is also playing a role, particularly in Veneto, where a political fringe has never given up on secession, even though that's been long abandoned by the governing right-wing Northern League.

Both regional leaders emphasize the legal nature of the referendums approved by Italy's constitutional court, in contrast to the Catalan referendum.

Still, the autonomy drives are threat to Rome's authority. Together, Veneto and Lombardy account for 30 percent of Italy's GDP and nearly one-quarter of Italy's electorate.