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EU Approves $4.1B in Aid to Build Four Highways in Greece

AMSTERDAM (AP) The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, approved $4.1 billion in financial aid to help build four major highways in Greece.

Construction on the highways has been halted over the past few years as the country has grappled with a severe debt crisis that's required big budget cutbacks.

Johannes Hahn, the commissioner of regional policy, said the investment is “central to the country's economic recovery'' and forecast that building the highway will create 6,000 jobs. Of those, 1,700 will be long-term involving the management of the highways once construction is finished by the end of 2015.

Hahn said the highways form part of a trans-European road network and are essential for creating a single market for European goods.

The EU decision follows a vote in Greece's parliament to restart the four projects.

The new construction, mostly on the western Greek mainland and southern Peloponnese region, will link several more cities to the country's highway system.

The government said the projects would be fully restarted early in the new year and would give a boost to the economy in 2014 — a year many economic forecasters will see the country return to growth following six years of savage recession.

Opposition parties in Greece have criticized the terms of the agreements as being too favorable to construction companies, arguing that the money spent by the Greek state should instead go to programs aimed at easing the country's deepening poverty.