The European Commission approved more than 1.8 billion euros ($2.43 billion) in state aid for broadband projects last year -- a fourfold increase -- as part of a strategy to boost growth and create jobs.

The 20 projects, ranging from an optical fiber network in Catalonia, Spain, to extending the reach of superfast services to remote areas in Finland, Italy, Sweden and Germany, could generate up to 3.5 billion euros in investments, the Commission said on Thursday.

Smart investments into high and very high speed broadband infrastructures are crucial to create jobs, increase economic performance and to unlock the competitive potential of the EU in the long term, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in a statement.

Expanding broadband take-up across the 27-member bloc is a key plank of the European Union executive's 10-year 2020 economic plan unveiled in March last year.

The Commission said it had allocated 2.3 billion euros from its structural funds for broadband infrastructure investments and another 12.9 billion euros for information society services for the 2007-2013 period.

($1=.7413 Euro)

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee, editing by Rex Merrifield and Will Waterman)